Prachi Sukhatankar

Meet the Mind

Vol. 17 // 2021

Prachi Sukhatankar is the VP of Technology Solutions at Amentum

Prachi is a multi-faceted technology executive who has taken diverse leadership roles over a span of 20 years, guiding the strat-egy, engineering, go-to-market, and delivery of digital solutions to transform businesses in both private and public sector. Prior to joining Amentum, she was a Technical Fellow for SAIC. She holds a master’s degree in Computer Science from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, a bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering from College of Engineering Pune, India, and executive education in design thinking & innovation, data science, and leadership. She has served in leadership and mentoring positions for regional organizations like Northern Virginia Technology Council and Wom-en In Technology. She believes in a growth mindset and enjoys exploring topics at the intersection of business, technology, design, and humanities.

COGNITIVE TIMES: As the VP of Technology Solutions at Amentum, you oversee and implement critical next-gen technology strategies. In your experience, what key considerations should an organization keep in mind while attempting this?

PS: An organization’s technology strategy should be grounded in its business strategy keeping in mind its stage on the growth curve, size of the organization, and overall technological posture. For example, for a large services organization like Amentum with a diverse portfolio of customers and services, our technology strategy focuses on developing differentiated digital solutions that are broadly applicable and in lockstep with federal customer needs, market trends, and technology advances.

The other key consideration should be identifying areas that are adjacent to the core business so that the core services can act as a launchpad towards growth into these newer areas. This is important so that the R&D efforts are not siloed but can be infused and scaled via the core, at the same time reimagining newer offerings and business models.

Finally, the technology strategy needs to be supported by a good business ecosystem including partners and complemented by the right organizational structures for execution.

CT: Oftentimes, it can be difficult to properly execute digital transformations across an organization. How can cutting-edge technology solutions go beyond rhetoric to successful deployments that yield significant results?

PS: By now the term digital transformation has become overused and a bit hyped, which is not a bad thing in itself. The term is however inter-preted in different ways, and the corresponding initiatives have been scrutinized through a binary ‘failure or success’ lens versus a more nuanced metricbased measurement.

The simple realization for me, early on, was that the keyword here is ‘transformation,’ and not ‘digital.’ Transformation is the significantly different future state that organizations desire either for themselves or the customers they serve. With this mindset, cutting-edge digital technologies can be looked at as enablers and not the end-state. This opens the doors to consider additional enablers such as stakeholder-centric discovery (asking the question ‘why?’ upfront), organizational change management, policies and so on, ultimately leading to successful deployments.

Lastly, organizations need to keep in mind that this envisioned future state is a temporary one before the next cycle of transformation is triggered through internal and external drivers. In the case of missions of importance to our national security, these drivers range from adversarial threat and technology landscape, federal innovation/modernization priorities, acquisition policy changes to budgetary pressures. This is why digital transformation truly needs to be thought of as a journey where if you sense a stagnation along the way, then you should feel free to ask the question of what needs to be realigned – is it the vision? Is it customer understanding? Is it communication and adoption?

World digital concept, copyright ArtBackground via Creative Market

CT: A portion of your past and current work has been focused on AI-based predictive analytics. How have you seen this technology impact the private and public sectors in the last few years?

PS: My early work in predictive analytics was more than a decade ago within the public health domain. Since then a lot of things have changed: the vendor landscape has exploded with tools and technologies ranging from platform to SaaS models; there are more and more packaged solutions specializing in specific domains like cyber risk, industrial asset management on the heels of early adopter domains like retail, weather, finance, healthcare, and entertainment. There are also newer vocabularies, frameworks, and standards that have evolved, so have newer job descriptions and employment opportunities.

For public sector, from the executive order to create the American AI Initiative in 2019 to the formation of GSA’s AI CoE in 2020 and establishment of National AI Initiative Office this year, there is significant focus in terms of AI-based R&D, workforce development, resources, and standards, ultimately fostering a U.S. AI advantage that is critical to national and economic security. A few significant applied domains that are evolving are focused on productivity, military readiness and maintenance/logistics. Some examples here are DOD JAIC’s (Joint Artificial Intelligence Center) mission initiative in predictive maintenance (now known as joint logistics), Defense Innovation Unit (DIU)’s focus on critical artificial intelligence, and Army’s PPMx (Prognostic and Predictive Maintenance) program, among others.

From a commercial lens, predictive analytics has become embedded in certain areas like productivity tools, retail, personal health, to a point where I wonder if perhaps its value proposition is getting diluted because it has become a bit invisible. There are still several areas where there are vast R&D opportunities and ongoing efforts. More importantly, there is now a dialogue around cybersecurity vulnerabilities, ethics and trustworthiness of AI, which has far-reaching consequences especially within the public sector. The bottom line is that this technology area is truly all-encompassing, requiring not just innovation but a multidimensional, systems view and thinking.

“The simple realization for me, early on, was that the keyword here is ‘transformation,’ and not ‘digital.’ Transformation is the significantly different future state that organizations desire either for themselves or the customers they serve”.

CT: Why is fostering a culture of innovation important to you?

PS: Curiosity, which is a key ingredient of innovation, is very intrinsic to an individual human mind. Similarly, problemsolving and the desire to make the world better is intrinsic to the collective mind that is formed through the notions of communities, organizations, nations, and ultimately through global connectivity. When you foster a culture of openness and innovation, you are essentially freeing the individual and the collective mind to be itself. It’s that simple. From a purely practical business lens, this has huge benefits in terms of delivery excellence, growth, competitiveness, and talent retention as well as attraction.

“When you foster a culture of openness and innovation, you are essentially freeing the individual and the collective mind to be itself. It’s that simple”.

CT: You are spearheading a technology partnering strategy to complement your internal efforts. Can you share more insights into how you think about this area and how it may apply to other firms?

PS: For our strategic partnerships, we now have a repeatable model with a sequence of vendor evaluation, rapid proof-ofconcept projects, defining joint value proposition and go-to-market strategy, and formalizing the partnership. In a public sector context, this is a great way to bring commercial technologies, co-develop, gain scale and mitigate technology risks. In Amentum’s Strategic Growth Office, we align these efforts with our key solution areas, but are also open to exploring other, more opportunistic partner-ships as well as vendors in emerging technology areas.

I would say every firm should think of what their overall business ecosystem looks like beyond tiered partnerships to include stakeholders, vendors, academia, and sometimes even competitors. Larger firms may have the appetite for a larger playground and smaller firms may be more fluid in terms of letting the ecosystem grow more organically.

CT: You are a technologist at heart! What near-term technologies excite you the most and why?

PS: I am a technologist by head and a creator/futurist by heart! I find hyperautomation, digital me, and formative AI exciting because of the human-machine interaction they enable, their fluid experiential aspects and the signifi-cant impact they can have. I find climate technologies motivating given the breadth of sectors they span including infrastructure, energy, transportation & mobility, food & agriculture, and more.